Talented wunderkind Karime Lopez has always dreamt of becoming an artist. But along the way, she discovered that being a chef is like being an artist too, albeit in a different way.
With over 14 years’ experience at various lauded establishments around the world, Head Chef Karime Lopez helms the kitchen at Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Singapore edition. The 36-year-old worked under the tutelage of respected chefs such as René Redzepi, Seiji Yamamoto, Enrique Olvera and the late Santi Santamaria, before moving to Italy to cook alongside Massimo Bottura. In a daring cultural exchange, Chef Karime whips up her dishes fearlessly without boundaries, marrying ideas and styles from all over the world to conceptualise a one-of-a-kind menu of Gucci Osteria signatures.
We chat about Frida Kahlo and Chef scrolls through her phone, enthusiastically showing us the paintings of another Mexican artist whom she adores. It is Leonora Carrington, a British-born Mexican surrealist painter. Carrington’s work focuses mainly on the underlying theme of women’s role in the creative process. Her paintings are haunting, and I am intrigued by them. Chef Karime indulges our questions and scribbles down a list of great places to eat in Mexico.
- What is your culinary style?
Every restaurant is like a house, it has its own rules and its own ingredients. Here in Gucci, I have an opportunity to tell my story. Every dish in this menu has a story. Take for example the Toastada, it represents myself. I am Mexican. This is Mexican. But I cannot work alone. I need my team.
We are a multicultural team. Each person tells a story and the dishes are a tribute to my team. The story of Massimo, Taka, all of us. It’s not just my style or story. It’s all of ours. As a group, this is what we want to tell the clients.
However, because of my roots, I do dare to say that there will always be a Mexican influence in my food. For example, the acid flavours used in my cooking. That is very Mexican! In the Taka bun, I use Yuzu to get that acidity. When it comes to fatty food, I need to combine it with some acid. I have many Mexican customers who come to Gucci Osteria in Florence and they tell me that they can taste the Mexican influences in my food!
- How have your travels influenced the food behind Gucci Osteria? What other personal stories and influences go behind your cooking and dishes?
Initially, I wasn’t planning to study culinary arts. I went to Paris to study plastic arts. That is where my journey truly started. After seeing all the delicious pastries in France, it struck me that all these beautiful cakes were like works of art. It opened my eyes. I thought to myself, why not start this? I was young, only 18 then. After a while, Paris became too overwhelming for me, so I moved to Spain. I felt more comfortable as I could speak my own language. I started to study at the culinary school in Spain. After Spain, I moved to the United States, then I went to Tokyo. I had the opportunity to take a trip to South America. I went to Peru. Two of my friends has started a pop-up store, and I decided to go over to help them. He asked me what my plans were? I said I had none, so he offered me a job in Peru to lead his team. Chance brought me to Italy thereafter, where here I am now, at Gucci Osteria.
Your palate evolves as you travel. All the time you go to different places, you taste something different. The more you travel, the more you learn and the more your palate gets enriched. I love Singapore. There are so many cultures here and so many flavours. It makes for a beautiful exchange. I infuse a little bit of that vibrant Singapore culture in my dishes here, like using Kaya in the Charley Marley.
- How do you think Gucci Osteria marries food and fashion in a harmonious way?
I believe that both worlds can enrich each other. It is an exchange of different capacities. Gucci designs the different cutlery and the China. Fashion gives us different ideas because it offers a different perspective. For example, they gave me ideas for different type of plating styles. They give me suggestions for different kinds of dishes. I believe both food and fashion can learn from each other. The more you exchange knowledge, the more you learn. There are so many things to learn in life and so many things we can learn from the world of fashion. I mean, who doesn’t like fashion right (laughs)?
- What is your all-time favourite cuisine?
I am Mexican! What can I say? It must be Mexican!
- Tell us then, what are your favourite places to eat in Mexico?
I love everything in Mexico. I miss Mexican food. If I had to choose, here is a list of my favourites! For Tacos, you need to go to Los Picudosa and El Huegito. They have the best tacos. Actually… almost anywhere serves really good tacos! For really traditional Mexican fare, I would go to Humberto’s and Fonda 99. The fried quesadillas at the Coyoacan Market, just opposite the Frida Kahlo museum is a must to eat when you are in Mexico. My favourite restaurant of all time? The Maximo Bistrot. Go try and tell me what you think!
We had an enriching afternoon, delving into the intricacies of Mexican food and culture, chef inspirations and personal insights into the interesting concepts behind Gucci Osteria. If a chef says something tastes good, we believe it must be good. While we cannot say that we have become experts in the cuisine, we certainly learnt a thing or two.
Anyone knows what an encacahuatado is? Now we do.
* Text by Dawn Wong